North Dakota Eclectics

Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de la Verendrye

Verendrye was French, and he came to the area that was to become North Dakota from Quebec. I am mentioning him here because it was his visit, and more specifically the journal that he kept, that marked the beginning of the Historic Period in North Dakota.

He was the son of Rene Gaultier Varennes, who was also Sieur de la Verendrye and, for twenty-two years, the chief magistrate at Trois Rivieres, Canada. His mother, Marie Boucher, was the daughter of her husband's predecessor.

The younger Verendrye became a cadet in 1697 and, in 1704, he took part in a demonstration against New England. The following year, he came to Newfoundland and, in 1706, he traveled to France, joining the Regiment du Brittany, taking part in the Battle of Malplaquet, which was fought in 1709.

He returned to Canada, where he established connections in the Lake Superior region. In 1726, Verendrye was commander of the post on the shores of Lake Nipigon, in the north part of Lake Superior. At Mackinaw, he met a Jesuit priest by the name of Father DeGonor, who had been with Guignas, who had built Fort Beauharnois, on Lake Pepin, the previous September.

At that time, it was believed that there was a water connection between the Great Lakes and the Pacific Ocean. An Indian by the name of Ochagach drew a map of the country beyond Lake Superior for Verendrye. His map included several actual rivers, as well as a fictitious river known as the River of the West, which flowed to the Pacific Ocean.

Since most travel, at that time, was by boat, the discovery of a water passage to the Pacific Ocean would bring both fame and fortune to the discoverer. Father DeGonor arranged for Charles de Beauharnois, the governor general of New France, as Canada was then called, into financing an exploration.

With fifty men, exploration left Montreal in the early summer of 1731, under the command of two sons of the Sieur de la Verendrye, and his nephew, De la Jemeraye, as Verendrye was busy with some other business, and did not join the party until 1733.

By the autumn of 1731, the party had reached Rainy Lake, by way of the Pigeon River, although at that time it was known as the Groselliers River by the French.

Father Messayer, who had been located at a mission at the mouth of the Pigeon River, on Lake Superior, joined the expedition as its spiritual director. The party constructed a post at the foot of Rainy Lake, naming it Fort St. Pierre.

The party crossed Lake Minittie, also known as Lake of the Woods, in 1732, and established Fort St. Charles on its southwestern shore. On the Assinaboine River, about seventeen miles from Lake Winnipeg, they established another Fort Maurepas. At this point, they were forced to wait on further supplies. Another son of Verendrye joined t hem on April 12, 1735, along with the supplies and equipment they required.

In June of 1736, while twenty-one of their party was camped on an island in the Lake of the Woods, they were attacked by a band of Sioux, and were killed. This island became known as Massacre Island. Among the dead one of the sons of Verendrye, who had been killed with a tomahawk.

On October 3, 1738, they established Fort La Reine, which was also known as the Queen's Fort, on the Assiniboine, which they named the Charles River, for Charles Beauharnois, who had financed the expedition. A short distance from there, the river was joined by another, which they named the Pierre River, where they established another fort, and Fort Pierre became a center of trade and point of departure for future exploration parties.

Ascending the Assinaboine River, then traveling up the Souris (Mouse) River, they crossed what was then the international boundary line just west of the Turtle Mountains, and became the Europeans to have entered what later became North Dakota. This was in 1741.

The Verendrye expedition penetrated into the land of the Mandans, who had seven villages, with pine stockades. On April 29, 1741, an expedition under the command of the two elder sons of Verendrye left the Lake of the Woods and went westward, following in the tracks of the former expedition, arriving at the Missouri River, and later the Yellowstone River, and coming within view of the Rocky Mountains on January 1, 1743. During the return trip, they met with the various tribes, trying to open up trade relations with them.

On December 6, 1749, as he was about to begin a new expedition, the Sieur de la Verendrye died, much poorer than he was when he first embarked on these explorations. Because he kept a journal of his explorations, his visit marked the end of the Historic Period in North Dakota.

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